HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As we near the end of 2017, Hawaii News Now is taking a look back at the biggest stories that emerged over the course of a turbulent year for Hawaii.
It was an emotional day and filled with celebration. On June 17th, the Hokulea returned home. The Hawaii voyaging canoe traveled thousands of nautical miles for three years. The crew spread a message of hope and aloha while sharing cultural wisdom. They also showed the world that it is possible to navigate without modern instruments and follow the stars.
In one of the biggest fires in Honolulu's recent history, the Marco Polo building erupted in flames on July 14, ultimately killing four people and injuring more than a dozen others, including a firefighter. The five-alarm fire caused more than $100 million in damage, according to the HFD. More than 200 units were damaged. Three months later, the cause of the fire was still undetermined, and several families are still without a home.
One of the most notorious cases of a missing child came to a close on July 24. A judge in Hilo sentenced Peter Kema Sr. to 20 years in jail for the death of his son Peter Boy. The 6-year-old went missing in 1997. While his parents had been the only suspects, it took two decades for the mystery to be solved. To avoid life in prison, Kema agreed to show authorities where he had buried his son, along the coast of Puna. His body was never found.
While it couldn't get it done during the regular session, the state Legislature passed an emergency rail funding bill in a special session with the governor signing it into law on September 5. It extended the half percent general excise tax until 2030, raised the hotel tax by 1 percent and reduced the state's skim from 10 percent to 1 percent. It's expected to raise $2.4 billion dollars. The rail project has been behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
In October, a 3-year-long federal investigation came to a head when the former Chief of Police Louis Kealoha and his wife were arrested. They were indicted for fraud, making false statements, conspiracy and tampering with witnesses for public corruption. His deputy prosecutor wife was also charged with bank fraud and identity theft
On November 12, convicted killer Randall Saito managed to escape from the state's psychiatric facility, get on two planes and fly to the mainland. Authorities launched a nationwide manhunt for the Saito, who has been described as a serial, violent killer. He was captured three days later in Stockton, Calif. A savvy cab driver managed to alert authorities that he was in the area. He has been held in northern California awaiting extradition back to Hawaii.
In one of the biggest sex scandals to rock the state of Hawaii, long hidden documentation confirmed in November that dozens of Kamehameha Schools students were abused over a nearly 30-year-long period. Dr. Robert Brown, the chief psychiatrist at St. Francis, was the abuser. Kamehameha Schools sent dozens of middle and high school students to him for therapy. For years, many of the victims were too traumatized to speak out. Later that month, officials from Kamehameha Schools apologized publicly for the first time, admitting the widespread abuse started in the late 1950s and lasted through the 1980s.
One month later, yet another shocker. New documents showed that Dr. Brown also treated Catholic priests who had been caught abusing children. Instead of jail, the priests sought treatment for pedophilia from Dr. Brown.
In January, Hawaii joined a contingent of states that filed lawsuits against President Trump's travel ban. The executive order blocked citizens from seven Muslim majority nations from entering the U.S., including refugees from Syria. Legal challenges stopped the first attempt. Then in early March, Mr. Trump signed a revised version. This time the federal judge in Hawaii was the first in the nation to block it, saying it was unconstitutional because it was based on religion. In October Judge Watson blocked part of the third attempt. The Department of Justice is appealing this, and the president has defended his order by saying that this is a matter of national security.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped lawsuits that had gained national attention in January. He had filed them to make his $100 million Kauai property more exclusive. Called "quiet title and partition," it gives dozens of kamaaina families the right to cross Zuckerberg's massive estate. The lawsuit could have caused them to lose that access to kuleana lands. The billionaire was also accused of being a colonialist. Zuckerberg withdrew the lawsuits on January 27, telling the Garden Island that it was clear that he had made a mistake.
In March, Hawaii health officials noticed an outbreak of the mumps. They issued multiple warnings this year as it spread across the state. Kamaile Academy in Waianae even started the winter break early because several people had gotten sick there. By December 21, there were more than 740 cases, with the vast majority on Oahu. Experts recommend that people get vaccinated to avoid spreading it.
May 19th, an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu was disrupted. Court documents show that Anil Uskanli, a 26-year-old from Turkey, was carrying a laptop while heading toward the cockpit. The concern: that he had some sort of explosive device. Two Hawaii National Guard fighter jets scrambled and escorted the jet to Honolulu. Later on, Uskanli testified that he had been hallucinating that he was following a butterfly. He was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay American Airlines $8,500.
Much to the delight of many, the Hawaiian monk seal, nicknamed Rocky, gave birth on Kaimana Beach in late June. Her previous nine pups were born on Kauai, so this was unusual for the endangered mammal. That pup became known as Kaimana. They enraptured people from around the world who watched them sleep, swim and frolic on a webcam. But there was concern that the pair were camped out in a crowded area. Nursing monk seals are known to be aggressive if humans get too close. And Kaimana and Rocky got stuck in the nearby Natatorium twice. Once weaned, Kaimana was moved to a less crowded beach on Oahu at an undisclosed location.
Protests erupted on Haleakala in August as tensions rose between Native Hawaiians and Maui police officers. Two-hundred people tried to block a construction convoy from delivering materials to build the new Daniel K. Inouye solar telescope around 3 a.m. Officers arrested six people who refused to step out of the way. One of the most haunting images: when protester Joseph Henderson crawled under a truck to stop the convoy. He said he was willing to give up his life to protect what he considers a sacred mountain.
On August 15, a black hawk helicopter crashed off Kaena Point carrying five soldiers from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade at Wheeler Army Airfield. There had been two UH-60 black hawks conducting a night time training mission. After an extensive search by multiple federal and local authorities, the official search ended on September 28 with all 5 believed to have been killed.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Hawaii tested its nuclear attack siren on December 2. Relations with the rogue regime have intensified in the past several months as it launched multiple missiles. The minute-long wailing siren will now be a part of the monthly tsunami warning system tests.